A planned March 1 debate of Republican presidential candidates in Atlanta was cancelled on Thursday after Mitt Romney and Ron Paul dropped out of it and the campaign for Rick Santorum expressed doubt he would attend.
The CNN-sponsored debate was scheduled to take place in Newt Gingrich’s home state of Georgia. Of the four remaining candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, only Gingrich, who has generally done well in the debates, had definitely been scheduled to attend.
“Without full participation of all four candidates, CNN will not move forward with the Super Tuesday debate. However, next week, CNN and the Arizona Republican Party will host all four leading contenders for the GOP nomination. That debate will be held in Mesa, Arizona on February 22 and will be moderated by CNN’s John King.”
The Republican state-by-state campaign to seek a challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama in November’s election has been heavily reliant on debates.
Romney was the first candidate to cancel, citing scheduling conflicts. Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul gave the official explanation in a statement.
“Governor Romney will be spending a lot of time campaigning in Georgia and Ohio ahead of Super Tuesday. With eight other states voting on March 6th, we will be campaigning in other parts of the country and unable to schedule the CNN Georgia debate. We have participated in 20 debates, including 8 from CNN.”
Paul and Santorum quickly followed suit. Paul spokesman said that Paul would be skipping the debate to “focus on a bunch of western caucuses.” The decision by Paul doesn’t surprise anyone and Paul aim is to build a movement in this race, not win the presidential nomination however, a source also said that Santorum would “likely skip,” a decision he confirmed later last night in an interview with Greta Van Susteren.
That left Newt Gingrich all alone and apparently ticked off. The debate, which was set to take place in Atlanta just a few days before Super Tuesday, could have given a much-needed bump to the floundering Gingrich campaign.
After Romney’s announcement, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond tweeted, “Romney spits in Georgia’s face and cancels Atlanta debate appearance.”
Later, he tweeted, “If (Romney) won’t stand up and debate his GOP competitors how will he face President Obama?” Speaker Gingrich definitely has a point and it is clear that Romney and Santorum are now trying to prevent a Newt resurgence. At least when speaker Gingrich was leading in the polls he wasn’t afraid to debate, it is yet another signal of how the current two poll leading candidates, don’t have the confidence or courage to step up to the plate.